Trained SIU student volunteers will provide free tax preparation help again

Tax prep help — SIU student volunteers are ready to start preparing free tax returns for area residents. From left to right, Megan Jordan and Donna Adkinson, master of accountancy students, are with Michelle Johanson, coordinator of online undergraduate instruction for the College of Business.  (Photo provided)

January 31, 2020

Trained SIU student volunteers will provide free tax preparation help again

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A group of specially trained Southern Illinois University Carbondale students will be taking a little of the sting and stress out of income tax time for many area residents this spring.

Beta Alpha Psi, a College of Business honors accounting student organization, will again be sponsoring the free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) preparation program. The program assists  low- and moderate-income community members and students with completing their tax returns in 2020.

For the first time since the program’s inception, the group is also offering a drop-off service option this year.

Begins Feb. 8

The VITA program begins Feb. 8 and continues almost every Saturday through April 4. It will not be offered March 7 and 14 during the university’s  spring break.

Area residents can receive free tax preparation assistance from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on the Saturdays the program is in session in the computer lab on the lower level of Rehn Hall, located at 1025 Lincoln Drive.

Students thoroughly train for the task

Megan Jordan, Donna Adkinson and Joshua Hill, all master of accountancy students, are the 2020 program coordinators. They each participated in advanced training in preparation for their leadership roles.

They will lead a team of about two dozen accounting and law students who will prepare tax returns at no cost for community members and students who meet the qualifications. Each of the student volunteers is an IRS-certified volunteer tax preparer and completed mandatory ethics and basic tax examination courses.

The VITA coordinators will review returns and assist with any questions. In addition, Benna Williams, a School of Accountancy lecturer and former tax practitioner who is also the Beta Alpha Psi faculty adviser, will be on hand along with other SIU faculty, to offer their expertise.

New drop-off service offered; free filing included

The free tax preparation service also includes free electronic filing.

And, this year, you don’t even have to wait for your return to be prepared as drop-off services are being offered. Simply bring the required paperwork, sit through a short intake interview and leave the rest to the VITA crew.

When your return is completed, they will notify you by email and telephone and you can return at your earliest convenience to review and fill the return. Please note that when a married couple is filing a joint return, both must be present to sign the required forms.

Longstanding and valued tradition

Through the VITA program, Salukis have provided valuable tax preparation services to area residents and fellow students for more than a quarter of a century, according to Williams. Just last year the volunteers completed more than 200 tax returns – all free of charge.

“VITA is an amazing experience for everyone involved,” Jordan said. “It is a great feeling to know that you’re able to help someone and to feel their appreciation toward you for helping them with something they aren’t confident doing on their own. Not only are clients appreciative, but the students preparing the returns get first-hand experience working with a client and preparing a return, which will help them immensely when entering the work force.”

No appointments needed

VITA services are available on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis. However, people who show up late in a session may be required to return the following week if time runs short.

Most tax returns can be completed in an hour or less, but the wait will likely be much less for those who plan to utilize the new drop-and-go service.

Who qualifies?

The tax preparation help is available to any U.S. citizen, whether single or married, with an income of no more than $56,000 who takes the standard federal deduction. 

Students will prepare tax returns involving these items:

  • Wages/salaries.
  • Interest income.
  • Dividends received.
  • State tax refunds.
  • Unemployment benefits.
  • IRA distributions
  • Pension income.
  • Social Security benefits.
  • Simple capital gain or loss.
  • Self-employment income.
  • Gambling winnings.
  • Education credits.
  • Child Tax Credit.
  • Earned Income Credit.
  • Limited itemized deductions.

They will be unable to prepare tax returns for people who are not U.S. citizens OR tax returns that involve:

  • Schedule C with losses.
  • Capital gains and losses (complicated Schedule D).
  • Non-deductible IRA (Form 8606).
  • Minor’s investment income (Form 8615).
  • Determination of worker status for purposes of federal employment taxes and income tax withholding (Form SS-8).
  • Premium tax credits (Parts 4 and 5 of Form 8962).

Bring all required documents

To take advantage of the VITA tax preparation, people must bring all of the necessary documentation to the session they attend. That includes legal identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, and Social Security cards and birth dates for you (and your spouse and dependents, if applicable) along all current tax documents.

Tax documents include all official wage, earning, interesting and dividend statements, copies of last year’s state and federal returns if available and proof of insurance or Form 1095-B. Those claiming a childcare credit will also need to bring the daycare provider’s tax identification number (either Social Security number of business employer identification number) and amount paid for childcare. And, bring a blank check or other proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit if there will be a tax refund.  

To learn more

For additional information, email Or, call 618/453-1407.